Hartlepool woman inspires cancer breakthrough that will help people across the world

GROUNDBREAKING WORK: Naomi Whiteoak (left) with Louise Hall and Liz Baker
GROUNDBREAKING WORK: Naomi Whiteoak (left) with Louise Hall and Liz Baker

THOUSANDS of women across the world could be spared from invasive tests for breast cancer and it’s thanks to research funded by a Hartlepool charity.

Tests for some types of breast cancer could be done by blood samples instead of uncomfortable biopsies.

And that’s down to research carried out at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, funded by the Hartlepool-based Kay Smith Fund.

The Trust’s specialist biomedical scientist Naomi Whiteoak said: “It is very early work but it is a step in the right direction.”

And even though it may be 15 years before changes take effect, it’s the memory of a Hartlepool woman who died from breast cancer which has inspired the breakthrough.

At the moment, if women need a test after they have had a mammogram, it is done by a tissue biopsy and that involves using a needle at the point where the lump is found, said Naomi.

The work done within the Trust is so important, Naomi has been invited to speak about it at the prestigious four-day European Congress of Pathology, at the Excel centre, in London, on Sunday, August 31.

She said the advantages of the new technique are that it reduces the risk of infection.

The research was paid for by the Kay Smith Fund, a charity set up by Kay, from the Dyke House area of Hartlepool, who created it while she was battling the disease. Kay sadly died in January 2006 after a year-long battle against breast cancer.

The research investigated whether cell growth is associated with breast cancers that produce a protein called mammaglobin. Eighty patients who have had surgery for either benign reasons or for malignant breast cancer were randomly selected, after giving consent to be involved.

Naomi carried out the research as an extension of a previous study done at the trust by clinical research scientist Liz Baker and senior biomedical scientist Louise Hall.

As a result of this work it could be possible for some breast cancers to be diagnosed by a blood test, rather than an invasive tissue needle core biopsy in the future.

Naomi said: “The charity that Kay set up while she was battling breast cancer has helped fund important research at the trust, the latest of which I have been a part of. The trust can never thank her and her family enough for this incredibly important contribution.

“I am excited to have been invited to talk about this research at this conference at the end of the month. As a result of this work it could be possible for some breast cancers to be diagnosed by a blood test.”

The Kay Smith Fund has also helped fund the recruitment of a child bereavement counsellor at Hartlepool & District Hospice.

Mick Sumpter is a trustee with the Kay Smith Fund and said: “We are highly delighted that the money has made a real contribution”.

Isobel Wilson is a founder member of the Pansies breast cancer support group in Hartlepool, and was diagnosed with breast cancer herself in late 1996.

She said: “When I had mine, it was a one-stop clinic where you had a mammogram and an ultrasound and, if you needed it, a biopsy, and that is what happened to me.

“Something like this could only be for the better”.